If you're a parent (or even if you are not) you more than likely have been following the runaway-train chain of reactions to the publication in the Wall Street Journal of that excerpt from Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I'm not going to even try and write up a response to Chua's piece, since so many others have already done a much better job at that then I could have, but it has been fascinating to me to read through all the responses and reactions, all the while taking my own temperature as I gauge my responses to Chua's essay, and to the resulting debate (discussion?) it has prompted.
I will say this, though: It's hard to be a mother--hard to be a parent, everyone seems to be in agreement on that one, single, point. It's hard to be a Chinese parent, an American parent, a French parent, a Russian parent, a single parent, a white parent, a black parent, a poor parent, a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, a disabled parent, a living check-to-check parent, and yes, even a wealthy parent (and all the parents in-between I've left out). Parenting is hard. Judging other parents is easy--we all do it. I've done it, and no doubt I will continue to do so, however petty that makes me seem. Passing judgment on others is, I think, just our way of checking in with our own values and practices as parents. And I think it's also clear that the sensation-seeking title of the original WSJ piece "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" is in large part to blame for the tone of the reactions. No one wants to be told they are inferior to someone else, and certainly no parent wants to be told that they are inferior; and certainly no parent wants to feel inferior because they are unable to provide for their children in the ways that seem so necessary for success in today's society. I think out of all the reactions to Chua's piece that I've read over the past week, this one resonated the most with me, because most critics writing about Chua's book and about the WSJ piece failed to look at the real issues behind the whole Tiger Mother controversy: issues of class and privilege.
And I'll also say this: I have met Tiger Mothers before, only they are not mothers who demand their children succeed at their piano or violin lessons, or that they bring home straight A's from their expensive private schools; nor are they mothers who boast long lists of destination places they've been able to take their kids; their battle cry is not one based on how many hours they've logged trying to get their kids to master a piano piece. The Tiger Mothers I've met in the nine years I've been teaching at my college have been mostly single mothers who work two or three jobs. Mothers who never went to college because they were too busy raising their kids and pushing them towards the light, towards a life they weren't able to secure for themselves. They didn't raise their kids with the help of nannies, or housemaids, but they are fierce in what they ask from thir children, because they know--inside and out, what's at stake--in ways that Chua's family might not.. Standing behind every young man and woman who marches across the stage at graduation is a long line of other Tiger Mothers: mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, even, who have--often literally--shed blood, sweat, and tears to get their children to that stage, under that warm May sun, on graduation day.
And one last thing: Chua's piece left me thinking less about parenting practices with respect to West vs. East and more about the great divide that is steadily increasing in our country between the haves and the have nots. It's made me think about the things Scott and I can't afford to give our own kids (first on the list: an expensive specialized private education for L., for instance, at a school that could better meet his needs), and the things we can give them: a good home, loving, happily married parents, healthy meals, dinners together as a family, and those precious, precious, so quickly fleeting, so irreplaceable years to just be children. Maybe these aren't the important things that will help them rise fiercely and steadily to the top of whatever ladder they will need to climb once they are grownups, but I do hope they will be the things that will stay by them for the rest of their lives. I do hope they will be the things that, in the end, will count.